Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bears visit Bingo...Caps in trouble

Tonight the Bears will make their final trip of the season to Binghamton, New York.  While the Senators find themselves in last place in the Eastern Conference, and almost mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the Bears can't go into this assuming a win.

This is Hershey's 4th trip to the Southern Tier in 2011-12.  So far they are 2-1 and all 3 games have been close contests.  Combined the Bears have scored 12, the Senators 10 in the 3 games in Bingo. 

This is what would be referenced as a trap game in many sports.  You don't hear that too much in hockey, but they are there.  A game against a team that is out of the playoff conversation.  A game against a team that you have handled (at least on home ice) this season.  A game against a middling team before a game with a better team. 

The Bears have enough veterans to stay focused and get the win, but don't be surprised if it is much closer than you would hope for.  In fact, the Bears last visit to Binghamton ended in a 4-3 loss for Hershey.

Fortunately for the Bears they are close to clinching a playoff berth.  4 points.  4 points and the Bears would clinch a trip to the playoffs.  The seeding will still be in question, but the postseason trip will be official.

Which, unfortunately, is a lot more than you can say for the Bears NHL affiliate.  The Washington Capitals are now on the outside looking in at the NHL playoffs.  They sit 9th in the conference and still have a shot, but last night's deflating loss to the Sabres was pretty crushing.

While I am a Caps fan...I am a Bears fan first.  And to be honest with you, it's better for the Bears if they miss the playoffs.  Sure I would love to see the Caps make the playoffs and go on a terrific run.  But if they aren't going to go on that run (which seems unlikely considering the horribleness of last night) then I would just as soon see them miss the playoffs and send all Bears back to Hershey.

Braden Holtby will likely be on his way back as soon as Tomas Vokoun is healthy (which should be soon).  There was a chance that Braden could win the #1 job up there, but last night did everything but help that cause.  He likely would have had to be perfect to earn that opportunity and well, you know how that went.

Dmitry Orlov will be in Hershey as soon as the Caps season ends.  No questions about it.  He is on the clear day roster and the Caps will be looking for him to get some work.  He strikes me as a carefree, laid back kind of guy so I am guessing that while he will surely be disappointed in the end to the Caps season, he will be excited about coming to Hershey and competing for a Calder Cup.

The question mark here is Keith Aucoin.  And he is probably the most important piece as well.  With Keith in the lineup this is a different Bears team that scores power goals at a 30% clip. 

So, will he be back?  He is on the clear day roster so they will surely send him down.  The question is...does he have to clear waivers and, if so, will he.

Earlier this season we established that he would have to clear waivers.  He hit all the thresholds there so yes he would have to clear waivers...during the season. 

So, will Keith have to clear waivers once the Capitals season is complete?  It does not appear so, but I am only pretending to be an expert on this....
The "Playing Season Waiver Period" shall begin on the twelfth (12th) day prior to

the start of the Regular Season and end on the day following the last day of a Club's
Playing Season.
Based on that comment, straight from the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement, once the Capitals season is complete...either April 8th or after elimination from the playoffs...their playing season is complete and waivers would not longer be in effect.

Awesome, but what prevents teams from sending multiple players to the AHL?  The clear day rosters.  Only players identified on the clear day rosters or 'in-house' rosters are eligible to play for their respective AHL teams after the rosters are set.  Which was one week after the NHL trade deadline.

Again...I am not 100% certain that I am correct, but it would appear to me that once the Capitals season is over, they can send Keith Aucoin to Hershey without subjecting him to waivers. 

We may find out if this it true sooner than Caps fans were hoping to.

In other news:

- Injuries aren't getting better very quickly for the Bears.  Graham Mink, Jacob Micflikier, and Christian Hanson still aren't practicing.  And now Patrick McNeill isn't either.  Andrew Carroll is expected to play tonight though.

- The Caps signed defenseman Cameron Schilling to a 2-year entry level deal yesterday.  He is reporting to Hershey on a tryout contract and will be with the team the rest of the season.  Cameron just finished up his season with the NCAA's Miami Redhawks.  He is listed at 6'2" 197lbs.

Found this:
Schilling isn't a flashy player, but is a rock on defense. He's got pretty decent size and though he doesn't put up huge numbers, he can move the puck. He's the type of player that doesn't draw a lot of attention, but would make a very solid pro hockey player.

I would expect Schilling to get a look here over the next couple of weeks and then likely participate mainly with the Black Aces during practice and working for a roster spot in 2012-13.  This is perfect timing for the Bears considering that with Patty not practicing the Bears have only 6 healthy defenseman.  Now they have 7.

- Bears viewing party tonight!  I was hoping to make it out, but unfortunately won't be able to.  The good folks over at Sweetest Hockey on Earth have partnered up with ABC27 to bring this to you.  Everything starts at 6:30 at Fire Alley restaurant in Hershey.  Have some food, win some prizes, and watch the Bears!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bears beat Checkers 2-1

Here are a few thoughts from last night's game:

1.  Everybody say "Thank You DANY!!".

While the Bears were being outshot 12-4 in the first period and for much of the 2nd period, goalie Dany Sabourin was making big save after big save to keep the team in the game.  Charlotte came out and dominated play for the first 30 minutes of the game.  And Dany is the ONLY reason the Bears weren't down more than 1 in that period.

2.  Tomas Kundratek's huge hit.

Midway through the third period Tomas Kundratek made a clean hit on Checkers winger Nicolas Blanchard.  Blanchard was knocked out immediately and after a few minutes he did skate off under his own power...with assists from a couple of teammates.

The reason I bring this up isn't so much for the hit but for the Giant Center's staff.  Blanchard was injured on the play...and it was serious enough where they had the gurney sitting by the ice entrance as they thought they might need it.  Yet the GC video staff felt the need to make it the crunch of the game?  Really?  I can understand showing the replay after the player left the ice.  That is fine.  Showing it more than once, they showed it twice back to back, was questionable but ok.

But don't make it the crunch of the game.  Yes it was a clean hit, Blanchard kind of contorted his body a bit to make the pass and that cost him, but he was still injured on the play.  Maybe I am alone on this, but if that same situation happened to a Bear on the road, I would be pissed off.

3.  Officiating.

Terrible.  And it wasn't just the missed calls and questionable calls...which by the way, can someone explain to me how Chris Bourque got a cross-checking penalty in the 3rd period when his stick CLEARLY didn't make contact with the Checker AND he was holding the stick with one hand??  That had to be the worst call of the night.

Anyways.  Yes the calls were bad, but even worse was referee Timmy Mayer jawing with the Bears all game long.  At one point the puck bounced off of him and went to the Checkers...Boyd Kane didn't like that and said something to Mayer (shocking I know) and Mayer kept arguing with him about him for a couple of minutes afterwards.  What kind of ref does that?  Just your mouth and ignore him.  Not a very good job by the referee last any way.

4.  Standings.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton hosted the St. John's IceCaps last night.  They lost.  Which means that Hershey is only 1 point behind the Pens for 4th in the Eastern Conference with one game in hand and one game head to head the rest of the way.

The Bears are also 9 points ahead of 6th place Bridgeport.  More coming on this stuff next week.

5.  And finally...the Announcement!

The Hershey Bears will celebrate their 75th year in the AHL by hosting the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in an outdoor game at HersheyPark Stadium next January 20th.  Tickets will be made available to season ticket holders on June 18th and the public on sale date will be announced in the future. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

St. John's IceCaps visit Hershey Bears tonight

The St. John's IceCaps are currently the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.  They have all but locked up the Atlantic Division, leading by 14 points over second place Manchester.  More than likely, barring a Norfolk collapse, they will remain as the #2 seed until the playoffs.

The Hershey Bears are the #5 seed and are, truth be told, in solid position there.  They are 6 points up on 6th place Bridgeport and 5 points behind 5th place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.  Obviously the goal is to be as high as possible in the standings come playoff time, but, like St. John's, barring a Norfolk collapse, the Bears are looking at 4th or 5th.

Unlike their NHL affiliate, the Washington Capitals, the Bears final 12 games will probably not feature any 'must win' games.  But when you have Calder Cup aspirations and the #2 team in the conference is visiting for the first time all want to win.

The IceCaps have been a solid team on the road all season.  In fact, based on points percentage, they are the BEST team in the AHL on the road.  They are 20-5-2-2 on the road on the season.  Considering that makes them only 18-13-3-0 on home ice, the Bears two losses there a couple weeks ago look even worse.

But there is some good news.  The IceCaps have been struggling of late.  In their last 7 road games they are only 3-3-0-1. 

And the Bears are playing well at home of late too.  Hershey is 5-1-0-0 in their last 6 games, dating back to mid-February.

Tonight's game (and next Saturday's game as the IceCaps return then) is likely to be decided on via special teams.  The Bears boast the #1 home power play in the league.  The IceCaps counter that with the #3 road penalty kill in the league.  On the flip side...the IceCaps have the 3rd best road power play in the league.  The Bears home penalty kill ranks 5th overall.

Either one side is going to bend...or this game will be won 5 on 5. 

Hershey has been somewhat decimated by injuries both in Washington and Hershey.  Keith Aucoin and Braden Holtby remain on recall to the Caps.  With injuries, and a conflicting travel schedule, the Bears were forced to sign Matt Tendler to an Amateur Tryout Agreement.  Basically it is just so they have a backup in case something happens to Dany Sabourin (knock on wood).  He just completed his senior season at Neumann College and is probably not ready for game action in the AHL...just guessing.

Other new players to watch on the Bears (who many of you saw last weekend) are T.J. Syner and Daniel Koger.  Both are forwards who made their debuts last weekend.

So who are they...let's start with Syner.

T.J. Syner is very much like a Cory Conacher of the Norfolk Admirals.  And Jacob Micflikier of the Bears.  He wasn't drafted mainly because of his size.  He is listed at 5'9" 173lbs.  And apparently he can really skate:

From's college preview earlier this year:
Syner is a really fun player to watch. He's not big (5'9, 173lbs), but he is very fast. He can dart in and out of traffic and is difficult to contain because he utilizes his speed so effectively.

He did make an appearance at the Capitals developmental camp this past summer and then proceeded to score 13 goals and add 24 assists in 36 games during his senior season. 

So far with the Bears he has played in 3 games and has an assist.  Based on Tim Leone's Tuesday update, he was on the second line with Eakin and Bourque. 

Daniel Koger is a rookie hockey player from Hungary.  He has played for multiple ECHL and AHL teams this season in attempt to stick somewhere.  In the ECHL he has 9 goals and 18 assists in 32 games for Cincinnati and South Carolina.  In the AHL he has 0 goals and 2 assists in 15 games with the Bears (2 games, 1 assist), St. John's, Providence, and Milwaukee. 

I haven't seen him and a quick google search doesn't bring too many talent evaluations of him.  But he is listed at 6'2" 195 lbs so at least he is a full grown player instead of another Hershey miniature.

I am looking forward to seeing both new players and a Bears win tonight!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bears are looking at the 5th seed

Wow, it has been a while since I posted here.  Much of that has to do with my love of the NCAA men's basketball tournament and getting lost in that world for a couple of weeks.  But, like most of you, my brackets are mostly busted and the tourney has lost my focus.

The Bears weren't distracted by the tourney this past weekend as they swept the 3 in 3 and earned 6 important standings points.  That was big as the Bears had lost both to the St. Johns IceCaps the previous weekend.

Hershey has 12 games left and is still mathematically alive for the division crown.  But that is highly, highly unlikely.  The Norfolk Admirals have won 18 straight.  That is an AHL record.  That is impressive.

Norfolk has 93 points, the Bears, sitting in third, have 78.  So in theory the Bears could finish with 102 points if they were to win their 12 remaining games.  All the Admirals would have to do is lose all but 4 of theirs.  Like I said...unlikely.

Wilkes-Barre sits in 2nd in the division and 4th in the conference with 83 points.  The Bears do have a game in hand against the Pens and the teams do play one more time (April 6 in Wilkes-Barre).  If the Bears win that game and win the extra game they would only need to make up 1 more standings point to leap the Pens for 4th in the conference.

As we get closer to the playoffs I will discuss the Bears predicament and potential playoff matchups in more depth.  A little teaser...the Baby Pens are REALLY good away from home. 

But, there are still 12 games left so the playoff positioning post can wait for another day.

The Bears have a tough stretch of games this week and a good showing is obviously important.  St. John's comes to Giant Center Wednesday night for the first time in IceCaps history.  They currently sit in 2nd place in the conference...10 points behind Norfolk. 

As I mentioned before, the Bears visited St. John's back on March 9 and 10.  Those games didn't go too well.  Hershey got blown out on the 9th, 6-1.  On the 10th they managed to collect a  standings point but still dropped the game in a shootout, 3-2.

After the IceCaps comes the Charlotte Checkers for a 2 game visit this weekend.  The Checkers are hanging on to a Western Conference playoff spot at the moment.  They sit in 7th place in the conference, 1 game ahead of 8th and 9th place.  So they will be looking for points this weekend. 
Hershey made their trip to Charlotte back in January picking up 2 wins.  Both were one goal games with the first being decided in the shootout. 

This is a good chance for the Bears to pick up 6 points and to see where they are in relation to other playoff teams.  If the Bears want home ice in the first round, they need to win on home ice in the regular season.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Bears get 4 points!

One piece of business before I get into the weekend...if my partial season ticket holding neighbor Kiss Cam Mike is reading this...please email me (hersheybearshockey(at) have a question for you.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled post...

Coming into the weekend the Bears were riding a 5 game losing streak and falling further and further behind in the East Division.

One of things was remedied with the two home games this weekend.  The Bears won both and therefore aren't in the midst of a losing streak.

Unfortunately, it would appear as though the race for the East Division is all but over.  The Norfolk Admirals have won 12 straight games and have an 8-point lead over 2nd place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and 10-point lead over 3rd place Hershey.  Obviously there is still hockey to be played...anywhere from 16-18 games for each of the teams, but an 8 point deficit (and 10 points for the Bears) is a very difficult one to make up this late in the season.

But we all know that the East Division crown means nothing more than home ice in the playoffs.  Which, of course, would be nice, but 100% not necessary to win the Calder Cup.  Just ask Ryan Potulny.  Last year, his Binghamton Senators only got in thanks to the divisional crossover rule which allowed the 5th place team in the East (Binghamton) to cross over and play in the Atlantic Division's playoffs.

They won 4 series, 16 games, and the Calder Cup.  And I am pretty sure they didn't have home ice advantage for any of those series.

The more important standings information for Bears fans is this...Hershey is 5th in the conference, 2 points back of 4th place Wilkes-Barre.  And maybe even more importantly...10 points ahead of 9th place Manchester. 

So, the Bears are in solid footing in regards to the playoffs. 

Now, to the weekend...

That might have been the sorriest 4 point weekend of the season.  On Saturday night the Bears played host to a group of individuals that apparently confiscated the Binghamton Senators jerseys and decided to give ice hockey a try.

I have seen bad games from teams before, but the Senators performance on Saturday might have been the worst ever.  Just a complete lack of focus, effort, and skill.  It was bad.  It has been a bad season for the Senators, but if that is how they typically play, I wouldn't show up to any home games as a fan.

Let me give the Bears their due though...they played well.  I didn't think they dominated the play so much as they were the better team in that one.  Although, I am pretty sure Lebanon Valley College could have taken down the Sens on Saturday.

The Graham Mink, Ryan Potulny, and Kyle Greentree line was clicking on this night as they each scored a goal giving Hershey a 3-0 win on the night.

Braden Holtby made 17 saves to pick up the shutout. 

To explain how bad the Senators played and how easy a game Braden really had just consider that he was NOT a star of the game.  Mink, Potulny, and Greentree took home those honors. 

I think Braden had one, maybe 2, big saves...the rest were easier than shots he faces in warmups. 

But a win is a win and considering how the Bears have been playing of late...a game against a team like Binghamton was perfect to get back on track.

The Springfield Falcons entered Sunday's game having given up 10 goals to Norfolk on Friday and Saturday night.  5 goals each night, both losses.

On the season the Falcons are 24th in the AHL in goals allowed, with over 3 goals per game scored against them.  The Falcons goalie last night, Paul Dainton, was playing in his 3rd straight game and was pulled in Saturday night's game in Norfolk.  On the season he has a 2.92 goals against average.

The Bears scored 2. 


That isn't good enough.  The Falcons entered the contest 13th in the conference.  The Falcons were coming off of 2 straight road losses, were involved in a pre-game fight Saturday night, drove almost 6 hours for a 5pm faceoff, and were without their leading goal scorer.

And the Bears allowed them to get a point in the standings and hang around for 60+ minutes of hockey.

Again, a win is a win and the Bears needed a weekend like this to gain some confidence.  But Sunday night was not an impressive victory.  It was a team with more talent, hanging on long enough to get an extra point in the standings.

Matt Pope and Potulny got the Bear goals.  Dany Sabourin got the start thanks to Braden's recall to Washington and made some big saves to pick up the win.

But the effort wasn't there from the team.  According to the score sheet Hershey managed 26 shots.  14 of those were in the third period and overtime. 

12 shots in the first two periods? 

The Bears had a 5 on 3 for almost a full minute and couldn't hit the net.  Until the final goal they had gone 0 for 5 with the man advantage and looked bad doing it. 

At the end of the day 2 points is still 2 points.  And the Bears are learning to play close, low-scoring games.  Which is good, because that is what wins in the playoffs. 

The Bears have 2 more games against Binghamton this year...hopefully they aren't still looking for confidence when those game arrive.